Democrats have Andrew Yang. Republicans have Zoltan Istvan.
Both men are running for the presidency as political outsiders and pitching radical, future-focused ideas to voters. For Yang, it’s universal basic income and a slew of other technocratic policy proposals.
Istvan also supports a form of universal basic income, but his primary focus is even wilder — he wants the country to prepare for the transhumanist future.
Istvan defines transhumanism as the movement to upgrade human bodies and lives with technology. He predicts a future in which our bodies will be significantly augmented, such as with robotic arms or computer displays in our eyes.
He expects human life spans will drastically increase and robots will take on more humanlike characteristics, including consciousness.
Outside of science fiction entertainment, these are not ideas most Americans think about as public policy issues.
“When I was traveling in Iowa and told people about it, they thought I was on some other space ship,” Istvan told me during a phone interview last week.
Istvan ran for president in 2016 under the Transhumanist Party, and ran in the California gubernatorial primary with the Libertarian Party last year. He’s not a traditional Republican, but hopes to find allies among GOP primary voters.
“As an entrepreneur I’ve always been fiscally conservative. Totally socially liberal. Libertarian to the core when it comes to social ideas,” Istvan said.
There is a great deal of disagreement about whether and how soon the huge technological developments Istvan discusses might be achieved. It might be 10 or 20 years as he predicts, but also could be more than 100 years away, or never.
Nevertheless, some form of transhumanism and an increasing level of artificial-intelligence-aided automation already are upon us. Istvan warns that the United States will be ill-equipped to manage social and economic changes.
“I’m worried we’re going to wake up in four or eight years and China will be the dominant player in the world both culturally and with innovation and with money and the economy,” Istvan said.
To prepare, Istvan suggests several steps that will make many Americans uncomfortable.
As a few examples, the transhumanist campaign proposes mandatory college attendance for most people, licensure testing for parents and merging the United States, Canada and the European Union into a “joined partnership.”
Istvan wants to partially fund the government through leasing federal lands, vast spaces of which sit mostly unused in the western United States with trillions of dollars of natural resources. He has no affinity for nature, which he sees as “antagonistic and immoral.”
And Istvan would radically expand the use of police surveillance technology, including facial recognition and tracking devices. He generally wants to “rollback privacy norms that inhibit technology.”
I think these are ideas whose time might never come, but Istvan predicts the rest of us will eventually come around.
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“The transhumanist age will be upon us sometime. People will remember Zoltan has been out there talking about these ideas for a long time,” he said.
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